Identifying Intervals

A not-so-indepth lesson about intervals, how to play them, and how to recognize them in songs.

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Intervals are the space or distance between 2 notes according to what note it is on the scale, or scale degree. This lesson will cover all of the intervals in relation to the guitar, and how to identify them. This article is for people who know a basic knowledge of what intervals are but want to learn further of how to identify them in writing and playing, so you can help learn songs by listening to them.

The Intervals Chromatically

0 - Unison 1 - Minor Second/Augmented Unison 2 - Major Second/Diminished Third 3 - Minor Third/Augmented Second 4 - Major Third/Diminished Fourth 5 - Perfect Fourth/Augmented Third 6 - Augmented Fourth/Diminished Fifth 7 - Perfect Fifth(Power Chord)/Diminished 6th 8 - Minor Sixth/Augmented 5th 9 - Major 6th/Diminished Seventh 10 - Minor Seventh/Augmented 6th 11 - Major Seventh/Diminished Octave 12 - Octave Broken Down. Notice the Unison, Fourth, Fifth, and Octave are not Major nor Minor, but Perfect.
Major Scale: Diminished First-< Perfect Augmented Diminished Minor Second-< Major Augmented Diminished Minor Third-< Major Augmented Diminished Fourth-< Perfect Augmented Diminished Fifth-< Perfect Augmented Diminished Minor Sixth-
  • Unison - A unison is the same note as the root note, simple as that, can't get any more basic than that. There is no easy way of identifying this interval, its just 2 consecutive notes. 6th String Root (root as A)
    e|--------------| B|--------------| G|--------------| D|--------------| A|---0--OR------| E|---5------5-5-|
  • Minor Second/Augmented Unison - abbreviated m2, is a half step up from the root. A good way to identify this interval is the part in Jaws... da dun... da dun... etc. Or you can come up with something else that has a minor second interval to help you identify it. 6th String Root (root as A)
    e|--------------| B|--------------| G|--------------| D|--------------| A|---1--OR------| E|---5------5-6-|
  • Major Second/Diminished Third - abbreviated M2, is a whole step up from the root, or the 2nd note of the scale. Can be identified by the 2nd and 3rd note of Happy Birthday. 6th String Root (root as A)
    e|--------------| B|--------------| G|--------------| D|--------------| A|---2--OR------| E|---5------5-7-|
  • Minor Third/Augmented Second - abbreviated m3, is a whole step and a half step from the root note. This note is what identifies a minor scale. Meaning if you see this interval, 95% of the time you are playing in a minor key. An example of a Minor Third are the first 2 notes of Iron Man, or Smoke on the Water. 6th String Root (root as A)
    e--------------| B--------------| G--------------| D--------------| A---3--OR------| E---5------5-8-|
  • Major Third/Diminished Fourth - abbreviated M3, is 2 whole steps from the root note. This interval identifies a Major Scale, meaning if you see this interval, 95% of the time your playing in a minor key. An example of a Major Third are the 3rd and 4th notes of the Star Spangled Banner. 6th String Root (root as A)
    e|--------------| B|--------------| G|--------------| D|--------------| A|---4--OR------| E|---5------5-9-|
  • Perfect Fourth/Augmented Third - abbreviated P4, is 2 whole steps and a half step from the root note. The Fourth is a semi-tone up from the Major Third. When substituting the Fourth for a Third in a major chord, the chord becomes a sus4 chord (think of the Open D Major chord xx0232 and the Open Dsus4 chord xx0233). Fourths are also adjacent notes on the E-G strings while acsending. A good way to recognize a Perfect Fourth interval is the "Here Comes the Bride" song. 6th String Root (root as A)
    e|---------------| B|---------------| G|---------------| D|---------------| A|---5--OR-------| E|---5------5-10-|
  • Diminished Fifth/Augmented Fourth - abbreviated 5, also called a Tri-tone, is halfway between the root note and the octave, or 6 half steps or 3 whole steps. The diminished fifth is a very dissonant sounding interval. The diminished fifth can be used as a quick leading tone to the perfect fifth, a half step higher. This interval is used to make a diminished chord. There really isn't a great way that I know of to recognize this interval except the song from Westside Story, Maria. Ma(p1)-ri(5)-a(p5). (try it yourself). 6th String Root (root as A)
    e|---------------| B|---------------| G|---------------| D|---------------| A|---6--OR-------| E|---5------5-11-|
  • Perfect Fifth/Power Chord/Diminished 6th - or P5, is the most widely used interval in Rock 'n' Roll. It is 3 whole steps and a half steps away from the root note. This is your basic power chord interval. It is a very solid sounding interval when played along with the root. The fifth is also part of any major or minor triad, which consists of the Root, the Major or Minor third, and the Perfect Fifth. The way can recognize a perfect Fifth interval is the Star Wars Theme song. I have a friend who recognizes this interval by the song by Usher, "Yeah". 6th String Root (root as A)
    e|---------------| B|---------------| G|---------------| D|---------------| A|---7--OR-------| E|---5------5-12-|
  • Minor Sixth/Fifth - or a m6, is 4 wholesteps from the root note. This is also very dissonant sounding. There isn't much to say about this interval except for it is good as a descending leading down, going down a step. I really can't think of a good way to recognize this interval. Sorry :/ 6th String Root (root as A)
    e|---------------| B|---------------| G|---------------| D|---------------| A|---8--OR-------| E|---5------5-13-|
  • Major Sixth/Diminished Seventh - or a M6, is 3 half steps below the octave. This interval when played as a chord sounds good in an acoustic type setting. An easy way to recognize this is the little NBC jingle when they are about to show weather. If you don't know what I'm talking about, or you don't live in the US, then try playing the D string, then the B string, then the G string about a second apart from each other. The D and B are a Major Sixth interval.
    e|---------------| B|---------------| G|---------------| D|---4-----------| A|-----OR---9----| E|---5------5----|
  • Minor Seventh/Augmented sixth - or an m7, is one of the most important intervals of JAZZ. This is a flat seventh which is a whole step below the octave, which makes a chord dominant. A Major chord, when added with this Flat Seven, becomes dominant and sounds jazzy and slightly dissonant. The V chord in all keys is dominant like this, and when moving to the Tonic chord becomes a Cadence, or a resolving progression (sorry if this confuses you, I don't expect people reading this article to fully understand everything I say). I don't really have a good way to remember this either, but can be identified just by knowing the sound the interval makes. 6th String Root (root as A)
    e|---------------| B|---------------| G|---------------| D|---5-----------| A|-----OR---10---| E|---5------5----|
  • Major Seventh/Diminished Octave - or an M7, is the leading tone to the octave, meaning it is a half step below. The leading tone quality of this interval is nice because it can make a Harmonic Minor scale by making the minor 7 into this major 7. It just has good resolving qualities. This one is easy to hear because it is just dissonant to hear it is right next to the octave. 6th String Root (root as A)
    e|---------------| B|---------------| G|---------------| D|---6-----------| A|-----OR---11---| E|---5------5----|
  • Octave/Augmented Seventh - or a P8, is just the octave higher than the root note, that simple. The only example I can think of right now is Over The Rainbow from the Wizard of Oz, but it doesn't take a maestro to identify this interval :D 6th String Root (root as A)
    e|---------------| B|---------------| G|---------------| D|---7-----------| A|-----OR---12---| E|---5------5----|

    Compound Intervals

    Compound intervals are intervals that exceed the octave, but they go by the same order and number and can be heard the same. Unison - 8 Second - Ninth Third - Tenth Fourth - Eleventh Fifth - Twelfth Sixth - Thirteenth Seventh- Fourteenth Octave - Fifteenth This is a very indepth introduction to intervals that should not only help as a guitar player, but a musician as well. Try to use these and identify intervals in songs your listening to on a CD or Radio. It helps a lot. And remember, the examples I used in this article might not be the best way for you to identify intervals, try to find an example of a good song of yours that you can keep in your head. I tried to be very non-genre favored in this article, trying to use more standard songs in examples. coffeeguy9@gmail.com
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    51 comments sorted by best / new / date

      Dan Steinman
      Good article. Every musician should know this stuff, it's the essential basics of harmony theory. To those of you who are confused, let me explain why this important. Basically, these are the names of the intervals between notes in a chord (a chord being any two or more notes played together). The reason this is important is because it is the alphabet from which you "spell" chords. For example, a major chord consists of 3 notes: A root note, the major third of that root note, and the perfect fifth of that root note. These intervals tell you how to find the notes you need in a given chord. here are a few basic chord spellings: Major: root, maj3, per5 Minor: root, min3, per5 7th: root, maj3, per5, min7(aka dominant 7th) 6th: root, maj3, per5, maj6 Diminished: root, min3, dim5 Augmented: root, maj3, aug5 Suspended 4: root, per4, per5 Min7: root, min3, per5, min7 Maj7: root, maj3, per5, maj7 Min7flat5: root, min3, dim5, min7 and so on. Note: Spelling 9, 11, and 13 chords is a bit different, you keep adding notes: 9: root, maj3, per5, min7, 9(maj2) 11: root, maj3, per5, min7, 9, 11(per4) 13: root, maj3, per5, min7, 9, 11, 13(maj6) when there is a sharp or a flat sign in front of a number, say in a 13#9 chord, it means play that chord with that one tone altered. As you may have noticed, the guitar does not have enough strings to play a 13 chord, or even to comfortably play some of the others. Usually guitar voicings leave out the root, or the 5th, or the 11th in a jazz chord. It depends on what notes you want to emphasize.
      Inf1n1tY.
      i think we already have a lesson for the numeral interval system, but good work and it's easy to understand
      mruhno
      Just so you know, "Somewhere" from West Side Story starts with a m7 interval.
      Lydian_Mode
      only one mistake, but its probably a typo
      Major Third/Diminished Fourth - abbreviated M3, is 2 whole steps from the root note. This interval identifies a Major Scale, meaning if you see this interval, 95% of the time your playing in a minor key. An example of a Major Third are the 3rd and 4th notes of the Star Spangled Banner.
      the minor should say major
      SethMegadefan
      darnthatdream wrote: The article is innaccurate. There is no such thing as a major or minor 5th, 4th or 6th (or 8ve). Those can only be perfect, augmented or diminished.
      He never said that there were major or minor of those. He did say diminished and augmented, when necessary. Am I misinterpreting that post or what?
      sirpsycho85
      just some more helpful intervals... dim5/+4: the opening notes to the simpsons The(p1)-Simp(5)-sons(p5) . minor 6: the first two notes of the riff to "In My Life" by The Beatles
      sirpsycho85
      also, it might help to give intervals down because if you can recognize them down it's much faster than flipping the notes around in your head. for example, a perfect third down is easy to remember as the opening to the first movement of Beethoven's fifth symphony.
      denied
      dude, most people already know this stuff. the hard bit is the fact that people, not having relative pitch, cant really hear this stuff. so moe of a help for composing than learning... very straightforward
      K10P
      minor 7th sounds like the old star trek theme tune, major 2nd as 007 james bond
      coffeeguy9
      darnthatdream wrote: The article is innaccurate. There is no such thing as a major or minor 5th, 4th or 6th (or 8ve). Those can only be perfect, augmented or diminished.
      Read it again, dude. I specifically say that.
      SLD.Potato
      I have a friend who recognizes this interval by the song by Usher, "Yeah".
      Sure, a friend . Awesome artical, though. I'm slowly starting to actually understand this confusing stuff!
      BikeRacer69
      I dont understand why the major 2nd is not a perfect second because It is the second of both the major and minor scale. Help me with my confusion.
      theorygeek
      I am studying to take a test on this exact material and am here to help (tee hee) First of all, you haven't told us the songs for BOTH the ascending (going up) and descending (going down). And second: a song for a descending major sixth is in the song Invisible by Taylor Swift, where she sings "she's never gonna love you like i want to" and another, perhaps easier song to remember for an ascending major sixth is My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.
      coffeeguy9
      And to answer a lot of peoples questions as to why a 2nd is not perfect, it's not due to major/minor, but it relates to part writing and consonant/dissonance interval rules that aren't mentioned here. 4ths are technically dissonant perfect intervals, and 5ths and octaves are perfect consonant, 2nds are non perfect consonant.
      parth93
      hey guys there s an easy way to remember the minor 6th interval -- by the relation between the 1st and 3rd note in crazy train's main melody (ozzy osbourne
      coffeeguy9
      Wait, sorry. I'm sorry to inform you, but you're wrong about the 6th. 6th can be major/minor. ignore that last post.
      coffeeguy9
      Panthergurl wrote: hey i know this is a stupid question but i just wanted to clarify, if you play the root note and then say 2 steps above, thats a maj 2nd, but what if u play a note and then 2 steps down, is that still a maj 2nd?
      2 whole steps, no. 2 half steps, yes. This is all relative going down. After writing this I realized that I forgot to explain decending intervals. Yes, it is all the same. But they can also be relative, like a descending M2 is the same note as an ascending m7. P1 - P1 M2 - m7 M3 - m6 P4 - P5 P5 - P4 M6 - m3 M7 - m2 You see how Major usually goes to minor? And Perfect to Perfect. Yeah, it just works out that way. I also don't know many examples for descending intervals, try to find some yourself.
      darnthatdream
      The article is innaccurate. There is no such thing as a major or minor 5th, 4th or 6th (or 8ve). Those can only be perfect, augmented or diminished.
      TheEndHasNoEnd
      I liked the way you gave examples of songs where you can find the intervals, that was really helpful.
      coffeeguy9
      Thanks for the great reviews. This is my first lesson for UG, expect more. My next project is Jazz Chord voicings for Guitar
      GuitarJenks
      When I took my music theory class, my prof gave us a sheet with a bunch songs for each interval. I'll try to find it and post the songs that you didn't have, but a very well done column.
      Mickey Lightnin
      Logz is a fag. Great article man! learning the intervals helps to understand the guitar more, like learning the major chord formulae, then relating it to the intervals it consists of, it can be seen where the chord gets its tonality and feel from
      Dan Steinman
      coffeeguy9 wrote: Thanks for the great reviews. This is my first lesson for UG, expect more. My next project is Jazz Chord voicings for Guitar
      Oh jazz chord voicings. Sounds awesome. Be sure to explain how to spell out jazz voicings, i.e., #11b9#5 is root, maj3, aug5, min7, b9, #11. It's important to know how to spell these out so you can figure out your own voicings, not to mention be able to solo over jazz chords.
      SethMegadefan
      Mickey Lightnin wrote: Logz is a fag.
      And you're an idiot. Cool article. I knew all this stuff, but for a beginner this is absolutely golden. Great work, and I definitely look forward to your next column.
      TwistedLogic
      Do not like the way that you explained it at all. First off you present the informatoin in such a way that people might think that an major third and diminished forth for example are the same thing, when in fact that are not. They do have the same sound but have different relations to a key note. A second is a second and you cannot simply say, "well it is augmented so can also be called a diminished third." If it is augmented it is still a second regardless of whether it could mathematically be equivilant to another note. In the C scale, d is second regardless of any other quality is may have and e is third, f forth etc...regardless of whether it is augmented or major or whatever. Another issue if presenting the kinds of degrees that each interval can have. Each degree have different qualities in relation to the key note. the 4TH, 5TH, and octave can be perfect augmented or diminished, with the others are either major, minor, augmented or diminished. Unlike the others I think you did not explain this very well, especially the fact that seconds,thirds,forths, etc.. not interchangable but mutually exclusive.
      auranos
      Good article. TwistedLogic touched on some points that could use some work, but overall this was a great introduction to identifying intervals. I liked the fact that you included examples from popular songs to help identify the intervals. Knowing and hearing are both important.
      coffeeguy9
      TwistedLogic: This was not an article about intervals in keys, it's about how to identify them by how they are played or heard. I could explain the difference between an aug4 and dim5 but thats irrelevant. I understand where you're coming from though.
      TwistedLogic
      Its all good, did not mean to be too harsh about your piece. Nice effort. Sorry for misinterpreting your objective.
      Metallicazx
      Hey Coffeeguy9! I remember you from StansClubhouse(SCH), its the retarded Sm43..lol, pretty good project here, I just saw your name and thought I'd check it out...Good luck on the next Jazz project you were talking about. ~Metallicazx~
      Night_Lights
      hahahahaha Usher! holy shit i just tried that out and lolzers ill never forget it the stupid songs stuck in my head now
      coffeeguy9
      Night_Lights wrote: hahahahaha Usher! holy shit i just tried that out and lolzers ill never forget it the stupid songs stuck in my head now
      Thats the point
      vanceboy
      Good job. Informative, gives nice details and examples, and simple! 10pts. bud.
      Panthergurl
      hey i know this is a stupid question but i just wanted to clarify, if you play the root note and then say 2 steps above, thats a maj 2nd, but what if u play a note and then 2 steps down, is that still a maj 2nd?